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The Art of Waterloo

William Sadler II, The Battle of Waterloo 1815

Report of the lecture given by Peter Warwick
on February 28th 2015

In 1836 the Duke of Wellington commissioned William Salter to paint the first of the Waterloo Banquets given at No1 Piccadilly for all his officers who served at the Battle of Waterloo.  From these men, whose faces were clearly portrayed, we started the story through wonderful paintings of the Napoleonic Wars culminating in the Battle in 1815 which lasted 10 hours and where Napoleon was finally defeated.

Francisco Goya, The Duke of Wellington

Starting with scenes from the Peninsula War we followed Arthur Wellesley’s career from a sepoy soldier to a dukedom.  With the help of UK’s maritime supremacy the French were driven out of Spain, and he was famous.  Painted by Goya, he looked tired after 3½ years of constant campaigning.


Jacques-Louis David
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries

There were wonderful heroic portraits of Napoleon by David depicting him as victor, politician, charting his rise from a soldier to his coronation where he crowned himself Emperor.  In 1812 Napoleon attacks Russia and in the famous retreat from Moscow we saw many paintings of the horrors where men and horses died.  This great loss, had a devastating effect on Napoleon’s cavalry which never recovered.

Eventually, forced to abdicate, he was exiled to Elba but after the Congress of Vienna where Europe was split up, he returned and marched to take Antwerp so to bargain with the Russians and Austrians.   Arriving in the evening, Wellington had to hastily leave the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels.  History might have all been different if the armies with Wellington and the Allies hadn’t got in
Napoleon's way.

Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler),  Scotland Forever! - Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo

Wonderful paintings, the best we thought by Lady Butler, of battle scenes – shutting the gates at Hougoumont, charging horses, death but above all depicting war as being glorified and heroic.  Many details of the battle were depicted.  Napoleon was nearly victorious but not having faced infantry before and relying on his guns, he delayed sending in his Imperial Guard, the hardened, experienced soldiers.  Finally (3 hours late) Blücher and the Prussians arrived and it was all over.

We were then shown medical paintings by Charles Bell of the horrific wounds acquired on the field of battle to demonstrate that this was the reality of warfare, which, as the speaker pointed out was too often shown as being epic and glorified.

The last painting shown, by J W M Turner, demonstrated, better than any others, this truth.

Sue Harman

Our guest speaker, Peter Warwick, dazzled us with his pictorial history
of the Napoleonic Wars and their climax at Waterloo